ROTHERA BASE, Antarctica (Reuters) - Anyone wanting to get away from the financial crisis might apply for a 2-1/2 year job on the only continent without a bank — Antarctica.
Most scientists and other staff visit Antarctica in the summer but the British Antarctic Survey is among few employers on the icy continent to offer a handful of 2-1/2 year stints.
“The economy elsewhere is going downhill ... it’s a good time to get away from it all,” said Terri Souster, 24, a South African marine assistant who arrived at the British Rothera base in late 2008 and works as a diver.
She is due to leave the Antarctic Peninsula in 2011.
Many long-stayers say they love working in Antarctica, with wildlife such as penguins and whales, and ever-changing views over a bay filled with icebergs. But they have to cope with separation from family and friends over two dark, cold winters.
“It is daunting,” said John Withers, commander of Rothera who spent the 2003-04 winters at the base. He originally signed up for 18 months but liked it so much he extended his stay.
On arriving home in Britain, he was surprised when his brother pointed a mobile phone at him at the airport — taking a photo to send to their father. “I had no idea what he was doing,” he said, having missed out on phone cameras.
With recession biting in many parts of the world, now may be a good time to get away to Antarctica where many people save most of their salaries. A U.S. base at McMurdo does have an automatic cash machine but the closest banks are in Chile.
Annual wages at Rothera start at about 20,000 pounds ($27,550), with food and accommodation included. Tax rates are just seven percent if you stay out of Britain at least a year.
“We’ll have deposits for houses when we come back and ideally the house prices will be affordable,” said Melissa Langridge, 25, an Australian marine biologist.
About 100 people are at Rothera in summer and 20 in winter.
“You might not be able to go shopping or to the cinema, but you can go ice climbing or mountaineering or crevassing,” Langridge said. She had to have her wisdom teeth and tonsils out as a precaution before coming to Antarctica.
Most people agreeing to a long stay are single. During the stay, some decide they cannot face the 2-1/2 years and quit. Others have ended up marrying a colleague met on base.
“I don’t think there’s ever a perfect year. But on the whole everyone gets on well,” said Briton Rob Webster, 26, a meteorological assistant who left home in October 2006 and is about to head home.
Many learn new skills in a small group that includes professions from plumbers to doctors. Webster learnt to play the drums and performed to a global audience of more than a billion people in the 2007 Live Earth concerts organised by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. “It was my 15 minutes of fame,” he said.
The base has free Internet access, computers, a dart board, a pool table and a movie library, but no television.
Withers’ advice to visitors is: “Don’t play pool against any of the winterers — they’re too good.”